The Sheena Bora murder case was a hot news topic for many days back in 2015. The updates rolled hot off the press and public interest continued for quite a while—Indrani Mukherjea killing her own daughter Sheena Bora with the help of her second husband, because the daughter was too friendly with the son of her third husband.
To make things worse, the crime had actually happened a few years ago. Indrani had been hiding it from the world and from Sheena’s friends since then. It was only discovered because of a police tipoff.
Social media—the WhatsApp forwards, the discussion forums, the stupid joke mills—all had a field day. Because Indrani and her current husband were well-known socialites, it was seen as a proof that “high society” was corrupt, amoral, and populated with the worst of humankind.
How could a mother kill her own daughter? Was that only for money and status? Was it to save her other daughter’s inheritance? Look, how she went around pretending everything was all right. And so on. Underlying the finger-pointing was the fact of her multiple marriages and the perceived ruthless quest for social standing.
Manish Pachouly captures the details of the horrific crime well in his book, The Sheena Bora Case. Writing a book about a true crime is always a tricky job. On the one hand, you want to capture all the prurient details, collate more data than available so far, and hold reader attention by writing the book well.
On the other, you want to show a complete picture of the events—including the motivations and justifications of the perpetrators, turning them into a real person even if hateful. It is in this second aspect that Pachouly slips a bit.
Nearly all of the book seems derived from the public prosecutor’s case, including an interminable 80-page-long transcript of the phone calls between Indrani, her husband Peter, and Peter’s son (and Sheena’s boyfriend), Rahul. The tone of the book, too, is extremely partisan, denouncing Indrani’s character and actions at every turn. There are no descriptions of what, in her mind, justified the crime.
Let us be clear: this reviewer has not been an active follower of the case and does not hold a personal opinion on the involved people. But there is a difference between a newspaper report and a book devoted to an incident.
In the latter, the expectation is an in-depth investigation and a rounded understanding of the background and the incidents—a document that remains useful even after the current awareness of the case has died down. The case, after all, is a product of the times, and a book is a document of those times as well as the specific incident.
Due to this failure, it is likely that this book will do well as long as interest in the case is sustained, and then fade away. Even so, it is a welcome addition to the tiny but growing genre of true crime books in India.